A WONDER goal in time added on means that it’s Belgium, and not the Republic of Ireland, who will go through to the final of the U23 International Challenge Trophy.
It was rough justice for Pat Fenlon’s team who had already come back to draw level with 10 minutes to go in a game in which, overall, they were the better side. 1-1 would have been enough for the Irish but skipper David Hubert’s bolt from the blue, shortly after Conor Kenna had been sent off, gave the visitors the crucial edge right at the death. The Belgians meet either England or Italy next year in the final.
A combination of Manchester United v Celtic on the box and a bitterly cold night meant the fireside fans stayed away in droves from Dalymount Park where Fenlon’s team lined up in a 4-5-1 formation with Cork City’s Denis Behan as the willing target man supported on the flanks by Bohemians’ Killian Brennan and Galway United’s fast-rising star Jay O’ Shea. Up against them was a coltish Belgian side drawn from the ranks of their U19 and U21 international sides.
Skipper Paul Keegan made Ireland tick with his composed distribution in the middle of the park but, while the home side dominated possession, both teams lacked penetration in a scrappy and largely uneventful first half. Barry Murphy was only forced into action once, diving low to push a Hubert free kick around his post, while the Belgian defence was twice forced into important blocks in front of goal, denying Behan from close range and then Stephen Rice from further out.
On the half hour, the same two players combined to open up a route to the back of the Belgian net but, after Rice’s quick interception and astute pass, Behan’s convincing finish was ruled offside.
Ger O’Brien’s wind-assisted 40-yard free kick almost embarrassed Goeman just after the restart, the Belgian ‘keeper back-pedalling and doing just enough to tip the ball over his crossbar.
Behan came close just past the hour mark when his deflected shot crashed off the post but, no sooner had the resultant corner been cleared, than Jelle Vossen took advantage of some sloppy Irish play to work his way across the box and around Barry Murphy before finding the back of the net.
From a position of strength, Ireland now suddenly found themselves chasing the game, Pat Fenlon responding by sending John Paul Kelly and Ross Gaynor on in place of his wide men O’ Shea and Brennan. But it was the impressive Keegan who was the architect of Ireland’s fully deserved equaliser when, in the 80th minute, his well judged low free kick was flicked home at the near post by Ger O’ Brien.
Now, Ireland had a place in the final in their grasp again and even after Conor Kenna was sent off in the dying moments for stamping on Belgian goal-scorer Vossen, they looked on course to hold out for their precious point until, in the fourth minute of stoppage time, Hubert, making the most of some standoffish Irish marking, unleashed a ferocious 30-yard shot which simply flew by Barry Murphy into the net.
REPUBLIC OF IRELAND: Murphy; O’Brien, Peers, Kenna, Powell; O’ Shea (Kelly 64, Coleman 89)), Rice (Rowe, 78) O’Donnell, Keegan, Brennan (Gaynor 64); Behan.
BELGIUM: Goeman; Tamsin, Van Gijseghem (Kums, 45), Servaes, Huyghebaert; Mununga (Buyens, 45), Papassarantis (Ngadrira, 83), Hubert, Vermeerbergen; Vossen, Mathyssen (Wittesaele 45).
Referee: Neil Doyle (Ireland).
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